Paramount’s DreamWorks Animation title Shrek Forever After fell victim to the box office law of diminishing sequel returns. After pegging a higher opening with each consecutive installment, the fourth Shrek collected $71.25 million at 4,359 sites – a figure that’s 41% off the opening of its previous chapter Shrek the Third, which continues to hold the title as the highest animated opening of all-time ($121.6 million).
3D wasn't to blame for less-than-record returns: it boils down to the film. In the case of Shrek, audience appetite for the lead ogre had been satiated, as DreamWorks has pumped out a Shrek chapter every two to three years since unspooling the franchise in 2001. It stands to reason that Toy Story 3 will score a better opening on June 18 than Shrek Forever After based on sheer anticipation. Disney/Pixar hasn’t been as aggressive with churning out sequels since it released Toy Story in 1995.
Working in Shrek Forever After’s favor is positive word-of-mouth: it earned a Cinemascore A rating. Also, animated films tend to have long legs: their openings average 30-35% of their total box office. DreamWorks Animation’s spring entry How to Train Your Dragon (which slotted number nine this weekend with $1.85 million and a cume of $210.9 million) generated just 21% of its total domestic tally in its first three days.
A just respectable bow doesn't cut it for DreamWorks, which has been nipped by Wall Street twice this year. The company’s shares declined soon after the so-so opening of How to Train Your Dragon back in March, and its Friday closing price was off 13% from its recent high this month on Monday May 3rd ($40.05) due to the low projections for Shrek Forever After, which carries a pricetag of $200 million.
Of the four 3D releases this year, Shrek Forever has the widest 3D count of 2,373, with 61% of its opening B.O. coming from such venues – which is the running B.O. share these days for the format. 7% of Shrek Forever After’s gross came from its 194 IMAX playdates. Shrek 4 attendees skewed young with 56% under 25, 44% over. 59% of those attending were females while 44% were male. Translation: more moms brought their kids to the theater than dads.
The frame’s second wide release, Relativity Media’s MacGruber, based on the Saturday Night Live spoof of the ‘80s TV action hero MacGyver, drew $4.1 million in sixth place from 2,551. Thanks to its $10-million budget, all is black for MacGruber in the accounting books as tax credits assisted in off-setting costs as well as an NBC ad-supported budget. Also, Universal doesn’t have much exposure on the film since it is only handling distribution. Not to mention, SNL can make films at a cost as the sketch show has been known to build clauses into their players’ contracts which ropes them into making films apart from their work on the TV show.
But here’s where the disappointment lays with MacGruber: brand prestige.
This is a TV show known for its top-notch satire which generates headlines every Sunday morning in the media’s recap of the show. There was a time when the SNL film was surefire gold: 1980’s The Blues Brothers was a surprise summer hit in its day at $57.2 million. 1992’s Wayne’s World remains the domestic B.O. champ of SNL films with $121.7 million, a release which benefited from the old days of cross-platform marketing whereby all ancillaries -- TV show-soundtrack-and film release – were synced together.
Following Wayne’s World, SNL-inspired projects took a dive in their domestic B.O. returns to a point where in 1994 It’s Pat based on Julia Sweeny’s androgynous character barely registered on the charts, grossing only $60,000.
Given the hype of MacGruber, its plug on the show, its upbeat word of mouth out of SXSW, there was some hope that this film might jump-start the SNL film label again. Clearly crimping MacGruber’s returns was its R-rating which blocked the potential teen demo.
However, going PG-13 could have decreased the film's quality: “When you go there, what does it become? Milk toast?” asks Relativity’s marketing executive Geoffrey Ammer. The crowd for MacGruber was evenly split under and over 25: 58% male and 42% female.
Sneaking into the top 10 this weekend--the first time for a Bollywood film-- was Reliance/Big Picture's Kites. Brett Ratner has his name above the title as a presenter of this action-romance. The film has an 85% fresh Tomatometer score. Reliance/Big Picture reports an opening weekend gross of $1,037,682, out-pegging CBS Films’ Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy The Back-Up Plan which made $900,000, No. 11, from 1,079, off 62% in its fifth frame.
Box Office Top Ten Chart:
1. Shrek Forever After (Paramount/DreamWorks Animation): $71.25 million in its first weekend at 4,359 theaters. $16,345 theater average. Domestic total: $71.25 million.
2. Iron Man 2 (Paramount): $26.6 million down 49% in its third weekend at 4,177 theaters. $6,368 theater average. Domestic total: $251.3 million.
3. Robin Hood (Universal): $18.7 million down 48% in its second weekend at 3,505 theaters. $5,355 theater average. Domestic total: $66.1 million.
4. Letters to Juliet (Summit): $9.1 million down 33% in its second weekend at 2,975 theaters. $3,059 theater average. Domestic total: $27.4 million.
5. Just Wright (Fox): $4.225 million down 49% in its second weekend at 1,831 theaters. $2,307 theater average. Domestic total: $14.6 million.
6 MacGruber (Universal/Rogue): $4.1 million in its first weekend at 2,551 theaters. $1,607 theater average. Domestic total: $4.1 million.
7. Date Night (Fox): $2.825 million down 26% in its seventh weekend at 1,869 theaters. $1,512 theater average. Domestic total: $90.7 million.
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Warner Bros./New Line): $2.285 million down 51% in its fourth weekend at 2,125 theaters. $1,075 theater average. Domestic total: $59.9 million.
9. How to Train Your Dragon (Paramount/DreamWorks Animation): $1.85 million down 63% in its ninth weekend at 1,751 theaters. $1057 theater average. Domestic total: $210.9 million.
10. Kites (Reliance/Big Picture): $1.038 million in its first weekend at 207 theaters. $5,013 theater average. Domestic total: $1.038 million.